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An 'Oh, Hell' Moment in Buenos Aires

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Back when President Obama was considering Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state, there were questions raised as to how to handle potential conflicts that might arise with former president Bill Clinton's dealings overseas for the nonprofit Clinton Global Initiative.

Everyone agreed that the key would be for Bill Clinton to carefully coordinate his efforts with the State Department, and things seem to have worked out smoothly so far. But even the most meticulous coordination may not be enough to avoid minor blips or the inevitable tabloid mess.

Take, for example, the former president's recent trip to Buenos Aires, where he raised a boatload of money for his initiative at a lunch and later a speech for 1,500 government and financial industry folks at a downtown hotel. Later that evening, he dined at a fine restaurant with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her husband, former president Néstor Kirchner.

We hear this caused some agita amongst the political opposition, what with the parliamentary elections at the end of this month. The Kirchners' poll numbers are weak and Clinton is hugely popular down there, so his being seen with them -- cameras were everywhere -- might give them a boost. (Might want to go private next time on the dinner.)

And then -- it had to happen eventually -- there were the widespread news reports that Clinton and his entourage later had a "noche de soltero" (boys' night out) at a well-known cabaret called Crocodilo, where a certain Andrea Rincón, a "morocha" (brunette) who was "pulposa" (well-endowed) and a former participant in the popular TV reality show "Big Brother," did a private "baile hot" for him, according to the Web site of the news weekly Perfil, though it's not clear exactly what that dance involved.

Her tale, best we can figure, was that she just danced, nothing untoward, and was paid "very well" in dollars by someone, but not by Clinton. She said she didn't speak to him.

A Clinton spokesman in New York, however, said yesterday that her story "is completely false. They were at the hotel playing cards with the former and current presidents" and "a small group of staff and friends." They were playing "Oh, Hell," he said.

PERSIAN-SPEAKERS A PLUS

There's some buzz that the White House is preparing a new slate of nominees to send to the Senate for openings on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the folks who guide Washington's overseas PR outlets, such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, the Martis and Radio Free Asia.

Couldn't come a moment too soon. There's no BBG chairman, only four of the eight seats are filled, and those members' terms have long expired. (The way it works, board seats -- which are non-salaried, part-time jobs -- are split between Republicans and Democrats, with the secretary of state's representative, Judith McHale, providing the ninth vote.)

But just because the quartet are lame ducks doesn't mean they are abandoning their oversight responsibilities. For example, member Blanquita Walsh Cullum was in Hong Kong and Taiwan in April. The whole group went to the annual meeting in May at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's headquarters in Prague.

Member Joaquin Blaya went recently to Dubai to look things over, and he and Cullum are said to be planning a trip soon to several countries in Latin America, checking out VOA opportunities.

BBG members don't get salaries for these trips, just per diem, some hourly pay and airfare plus embassy support staff.

A recent poll of employees in 37 agencies found the BBG in last place in three of four categories. It managed to place 36th in job satisfaction. Even worse, the agency dropped in each of the categories from a previous survey. But the overseas audience is mushrooming.

We're thinking Obama's likely pick for BBG chairman, former Time magazine top editor and author Walter Isaacson, now head of the Aspen Institute, will have a bit of a challenge on his hands. For example, there's the BBG inspector general's recent blast at the more-important-than-ever Persian News Service, which noted "confusion and sometimes . . . conflict" there because "none of the executive producers speaks Persian," though all the managing editors do.

ACCESS DENIED

We could tell ya, but . . .

CIA Director Leon Panetta, in his June 9 affidavit in the ACLU suit against the Pentagon seeking access to documents and videos involving harsh treatment of detainees in 2002, writes that "in light of . . . the sensitivity of the activities contemplated in the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, it was essential to limit access" to information about it.

In fact, he adds, National Security Council officials even "established a special access program governing access to information" related to the CIA's actions. He would love to tell us about the access program so we could gain access, but, as he explains in a footnote, "the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET." Naturally.

NEW FACES AT STATE?

Hallway buzz has it that some well-known names may be heading to Foggy Bottom. Our former colleague Sidney Blumenthal, a top aide in the Clinton White House, may return to government work as a counselor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International), who served on the Nixon National Security Council and in the Reagan State Department as assistant secretary of state for economic matters, is being talked about to return to State as undersecretary for economic, business and agricultural affairs.

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